We're starting a new series today that will last the month of January. We are starting this new year off with what I believe is one of the most foundational and important--but least understood--aspects of the Christian life: Trusting God.
Most people at some point in their lives, or even throughout their lives (with various levels of intensity), deal with fear, anxiety, worry, depression, difficulty forgiving people, doubts about whether their marriage will survive, and trouble understanding why they've experienced particular circumstances (like divorce, addiction, cancer, financial struggles, career setbacks, infertility, can find Mr. or Mrs. Right, and so many more). These are the kinds of things life in a broken and fallen world consume us with.
Many of you today can relate to that. You're dealing with something I just mentioned. Or perhaps there are other things consuming your thoughts or troubling you from having peace. These things are not uncommon, but are the norm of human experience. But what is uncommon in our world today is for those dealing with these things to actually have peace in their hearts despite their troubles. What is uncommon today is to find people who are dealing with these things, but are doing so with hearts at rest.
It is true, we can often bring many problems upon ourselves through disobedience and rebellion against God. If you are committing adultery, don't be surprised when your marriage collapses and your children resent you. If you are stealing money at work, don't be surprised if you get fire and have trouble paying your bills. There are things we bring upon ourselves through sin, and it's often those hardships sin brings that God uses to humble us and bring us to repentance. But often times the trials and afflictions we face are not the cause of anything we've done. They are just part and parcel of life in between the Fall of Man and the Return of Christ and the renewal of all things.
It is this reality, of living in a fallen world, with troubles and trials constantly storming the gates of our home, that the Scriptures repeatedly tell us to trust God. In this series, entitled "With All Your Heart," we are going to look at how we do that.
Scripture Reading: Proverbs 3:5-6
Many people are familiar with these verses we've just read. They are popular. And sometimes verses can become so popular that we are super familiar with them, while not actually understanding them. So let's unpack this passage in order to gain a clear picture of its content.
"Trust in the Lord"
This is an exhortation. It's a command. We are being told to do something here and it is to trust in the Lord. The verb "trust" means to rely on. And what we are relying on when we trust in something is the character, strength, or truth of the object in question. It's to place confidence in. So to trust the Lord is to rely on the character, strength, and truth of who God is. To place confidence in the Lord. That's what it means to trust in the Lord.
In fact, the original Hebrew word for trust captured the idea of lying helplessly face downwards. To trust is to give oneself up to the mercy of another. It is vulnerability. It's to let your guard down. That's the picture of trust.
"with all your heart"
This description of the composition of our trust helps us to see the nature of it. It is not a half-hearted or begrudging trust, it is with all our hearts. It is with our whole being. It is with everything.
Before I go any further, when you look upon the landscape of your heart, and examine your life, do you find that kind of trust in the Lord? When the Lord looks upon the state of your heart, does He discover the heart of one who fully, and without compromise, trusts in Him? Oh the shame and pity that should be made upon our lives to think we would not trust in our Creator and Maker in every aspect of our lives, with every fiber of our being!
"and do not lean on your own understanding."
The contrast to trusting in the Lord is leaning on our own understanding. The idea of leaning on our own understanding is the picture of resting on something for our support. If you lean something against the wall, you're expecting the wall to support the thing you're leaning against it. So to lean on our own understanding is the picture of relying on and finding support for what we're facing through our own understanding/comprehension.
We're going to dive further into this specifically in a couple of weeks, specifically the danger of leaning on your own understanding, but for now, I want to highlight what this looks like practically. When we're facing troubles, trials, and difficulties, and all the questions about the future that usually accompanies them, instead of trusting in the Lord, we lean only on what we can grasp or understand. We let our own minds be our source of support, comfort, and peace.
So much of our trouble in life and worries are rooted in fear about tomorrow. We fear the future. And essentially the unspoken question we are troubled by is what the end of this passage talks about "he will make straight your paths."He will guide our lives according to His plan. Even when we struggle with our past hurts it is usually because we fear they will be repeated. "If it happened once, it can happen again. If this happen to that person, it could happen to us." We want to know our path will be straight. That is the trouble that plagues most of our hearts.
So the struggle most of us have is rooted in our lack of control. We don't control tomorrow. We don't control next week, next month, or next year. That kind of sobering truth leads us to deal--somehow--with the realities of our weakness, helplessness, and impotence. Our options are to trust in the Lord or lean on our own understanding.
This is where most of us live. I wish I could disclaimer that and say it is where most non-Christians live (leaning on our own understanding), but this is where most Christians live too. Most of our lives are marked by leaning on our own understanding. The reason most Christians lack peace in the midst of pain is leaning on their own understanding. The reason most Christians grapple with crippling depression, fear, and anxiety is because of leaning on their own understanding.
And I'm not here to condemn you for this. I want to help you. I want you to live in freedom, not fear. I want you to experience peace through life's troubles, not panic. I want you to be steady when you're faced with the reality that you don't control things, instead of scared. I want you to live confident in God's plan for your future, even when your past is marked by hurts and troubles.
STORY -- I'm a fellow traveller on this road with you. This teaching I'm sharing, and will share in this series, wasn't collected together in ivory tower disconnected from the ground floor of suffering and pain. It's the gathered lessons I've wrestled with and discovered along the path of struggle. In 2004, several months after Kaleb was born and the surgical mistake that happened, I began dealing with crippling anxiety and panic attacks. I had never had them before. I didn't know what it was that was going on. I thought I was dying. And when I didn't die, I thought I was going crazy. I loved Jesus during this time, and was a growing Christian, but I did not have the tools for dealing with his or making sense with everything going on in my life at the time. This led to years of seeking peace and comfort despite awful life circumstances. I sought the Lord, searched the Scriptures, and tried to develop a plan for finding help with my struggles.
And it did. It didn't magically fix my circumstances, my changed my perspective and heart. I've talked with so many over the years to help them in their similar struggles. And this series is aimed at helping you with it too.
What is the answer to finding peace and comfort in the midst of life's struggles? What is the remedy for so many of the countless things that plague our lives? Here it is, you ready: Trust in the Lord.
I know, I know, it sounds so simplistic that it can't be practical, right? It sounds so trite and cliche that it can't possibly be helpful, right? But it really is the key. Learning to trust in the Lord brings peace and comfort in the midst of 10,000 things that can trouble the soul.
So how do we do it? How do we trust in the Lord?
The emphasis I want to stress in this series is that "trust in the Lord" is not something we can turn off and on like a light switch. Trust is not something we generate by sheer force of will. It is developed. It grows. It's nurtured. And the way it happens is through relationship with God. The Christian life is not one of simply believing in God, in knowing God. It is not only about putting faith in Jesus for salvation, but walking in relationship with Jesus that changes everything. Christ died and rose from the dead to save sinners and reconcile us to God Almighty, but the reconciliation is not reserved for eternity only, but for relationship now. It is meant to lead us to a daily relationship with God.
Why is this important to grasp? Because trusting God is not a light switch we turn off and on, it is the byproduct of an ongoing relationship with the Lord that grows the more we know Him.
It is embedded there in the verse. We are to trust "IN" the Lord. It is specifically the character and person of God that is to garner our trust. We are told "in all our ways acknowledge him, and he will make your path straight." To acknowledge isn't to simply give a tip of the hat. It isn't to recognize Him at the end of our acceptance speech. To acknowledge is better understood as "know" and signifies fellowship with Him. In all your ways, have fellowship with Him, know Him, and He'll make your path straight.
Think about it. It makes complete sense when you stop and reflect. How do we develop trust in people in our lives? We're in relationship with them. And the more we come to know them, the more we know whether we can or can't trust them. Unfortunately, the more we come to know some people, the less we trust them. But the more we come to know others, the more we place trust in them. Why is this? Because the greater we know them, the clearer the character becomes to us.
The same is true when it comes to trusting God. The only way we can come to trust in the Lord with all our heart is that we must be engaged in an ongoing relationship with God. And the byproduct and fruit of that will be our trust in Him will blossom and flourish. And the more that happens, the more at peace we will be in any and all of life's circumstances.
Relationship with God, and growing in the knowledge of who is, happens the way it does with anyone else: we spend time with Him. We spend time with Him in Scripture. We spend time with Him in prayer. We spend time with Him through worship together. These are just a few of the ways we spend time with the Lord, and in spending time with Him, we grow to trust Him more and more.
In the coming weeks, I'm going to show you what specific things we need to know about God that fosters and develops our trust in Him. There are particular attributes of His character that anchor our trust in Him as we go through life's troubles.
But I want to close today by exhorting your heart to trust the Lord your God.
Psalm 125:1 -- Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.
Those who trust in the Lord are like a mountain. Strong. Immoveable. Enduring.
Psalm 62:8 -- Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.
In good times and bad, we trust in God. We pour out our heart before Him in prayer, for help, and in need, and He is a refuge for us. Trust in Him brings shelter from danger and trouble.
Jeremiah 17:5-9 --
Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the Lord.
6 He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
Unhappiness, affliction comes to the man who trusts man. The person who trust in flesh instead of the Lord is cursed. They're like a shrub in the desert that never gets water. No life. It shrivels and dies.
7 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
8 He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
The alternative is trust in the Lord. The one who does that is like a tree planted by water. It blossoms and flourishes. It has life and bears fruit.
9 The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?
Who can understand these hearts of ours? We have a God that created us, saves us, and promises to sustain us in all things, both in life and death. And how do we repay? We do not trust Him. We would rather depend on and trust ourselves. We would rather rehearse in our own minds all the possibilities of being left to ourselves, forsaken, and forgotten by God. We lean on our own understanding.
Is it not a mirror for our soul to look at and be repulsed by these things? Is it not to our own revile that we so quickly doubt the Lord our God? Our hearts our deceitful and sick. Who can understand such fickle things like these hearts of ours? The God of the universe holds our lives in His hands and promises to make our paths straight, but we fret over His definition of straight and whether we approve.
Oh friends, turn away from such wickedness today. Rebuke your hearts for such wandering tendencies. And turn to the Lord. He is filled with such mercy and grace, that when we turn to Him, despite our failure to trust Him, He welcomes us. Like a father telling their child to jump from a height into their arms, but the child fails to believe the father will catch them, when in the father's mind it is not even a question, it could pain the father to see such lack of trust in the child, but not even that will keep the father from catching the child when they do trust. How much more will our Father in Heaven receive us, even when we've exhibited such failure to trust Him?
He will, friends. If you come to Him, with childlike faith and trust, He will help you, sustain you, and carry you through the fiercest fires and crashing waves. Resolve in your hearts today to seek the Lord. Call upon Him to stir a desire for Him in you. Plead for Him to nurture and create a passion to know Him more. Then, and only then, will our lives reflect peace, comfort, and even joy, when uncertainties, hardships, and struggles prevail.
What is something you worry about or try to control? What is the thing, that when it comes up, causes you to stop trusting God and revert to leaning on your own understanding?
“Trust in the Lord” is a command. If we really trust the Lord with our salvation then why can’t we trust Him with our daily issues? If we can’t trust Him with our daily issues then do we really trust Him with our salvation? What does it look like to truly trust the Lord?
Discuss some ways to develop trust in the Lord (Psalm 37:4-6, Romans 8:28, Psalm 28:7, Matthew 6:25).
When you look upon the landscape of your heart, and examine your life, do you find that kind of trust in the Lord? When the Lord looks upon the state of your heart, does He discover the heart of one who fully, and without compromise, trusts in Him? Discuss some ways to stop being self-reliant.
How have things turned out when you truly leaned on your own understanding. Discuss the benefits of not leaning on your own understanding and trusting the Lord (Psalm 125:1, Psalm 62:8, Jeremiah 17:5-9).
Discuss what you think it means for God to make our paths straight. What might that look like?